Going Postal: Gutting the USPS Feels Very Personal

My almost two-year-old grandson is obsessed with trucks and can identify them all. Driving back to the city from our two-week stay in the Adirondacks, we made a game of spotting them.

“Crane truck!”  he shouted from his carseat as we passed a construction site. “Grocery truck!” he called, waving his own plastic version with the veggies on the sides at the semis we passed, some of which actually were carrying the logos of supermarkets and suppliers, and some of which were just plain tractor trailers.

In the city, the most ubiquitous trucks are either brown UPS panel trucks or white USPS trucks with the distinctive red and white stripes and eagle logo. Vince doesn’t have his own UPS truck, but his “mail truck” is a perennial in his make believe games.

Which got me to thinking about Trump’s efforts to neuter the United States Postal Service.  He’s trying to prevent voting by mail in November. He’s wrong, but he also thinks he is exacting revenge on Amazon’s owner Jeff Bezos, whose delivery service uses the USPS. Republicans have been gutting the post office budget since the 1980s, for reasons that seem obscure to me, given its importance to so many reliably Republican small town and rural residents. Surveys reveal the postal service to be the most popular government function; perhaps that’s why small government conservatives want to gut it.

My relationship to the postal service has evolved over the years. I can’t remember the last time that I hand wrote an actual letter. Even my bills are paid exclusively online. The monthly ritual of sitting at the kitchen table with a stack of invoices, a checkbook, those stick on return address labels and a sheet of stamps feels like something out of a 1970s novel. I guess I bear some of the responsibility for the post office’s financial vulnerability.

Now that I think of it, I feel sad that the era of letter writing has gone the way of cabbage patch kids, walkmen, and princess phones. Those once ubiquitous items have long since been consigned to the landfill. But even as my life has segued from a four bedroom house to a three bedroom house to a one bedroom apartment, I have kept several archival boxes filled with letters that I somehow knew I would want to keep for posterity.

shallow focus photo of mail envelope on newspaper
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

I documented my “grand tour” of Europe the summer after my sophomore year in college by writing weekly letters to my father. He saved them, and gave me the bundle of light blue “Par Avion” fold up missives on one of his last trips to visit me. I have such a fond recollection of posting them from the American Express offices in the cities I passed through! Rereading them, I see that I was a social critic even then, commenting, for example, on the fashion sense of Italian men and the snobbery of the Parisians who answered my (pretty decent I thought) French with broken English.

I have only one from my beloved Quaker grandfather, written in a shaky hand to wish me luck in my graduate studies in California. It was he who taught me that studying the lives of  the ordinary people of the past had value. His ability to spin a yarn that captivated me about his own youth growing up in a family of twelve on a Pennsylvania farm convinced me that history could be not just dry facts, but haunting narrative. 

And of course, there are the love letters, although not all of them, because in some instances the pain of a breakup caused me to trash some in a fit of pique, on one occasion actually burning up a stack. Separated during the summers from my high school boyfriend, the highlight of my day was walking to the mailbox to retrieve another letter. Oh how I remember the hormone-fueled warmth that would course through my body, causing my face to flush, as I read and reread them!

Somehow email just doesn’t carry that emotional weight for me. My last breakup and subsequent divorce negotiations were clinically documented in email correspondence. I had discovered my husband’s infidelity on his phone, in his text messages, a sign not just of the times, but of his mistaken impression that he was hiding his conduct well enough that I wouldn’t discover it. Despite its life-changing consequences, that folder in my Gmail feels so much less real than the pieces of my past carefully sorted and tied with ribbons in those archival boxes.

All of which is to say that, like my grandson Vince, I have an emotional connection to the United States Postal Service and the newly half million postal workers who wear that familiar blue/gray uniform and drive those distinctive red, white and blue trucks.

There is a reason that the postal service was mandated in the U.S. Constitution. It is one of the most important ties that binds a sprawling nation together, that connects its citizens in good times and bad, and that symbolizes the equality of every address, every mailbox, every mail recipient. It’s not there to make a profit, but to enrich the lives of the rest of us.

I hope you will, as I have, call (or write!) your congressional representatives and donate to the campaign to save the post office here.

37 thoughts on “Going Postal: Gutting the USPS Feels Very Personal”

  1. I too have never understood the attack on the Post Office… But these days I don’t understand anything the Republicans are trying to do… Aside — when my son was about 2 he loved trucks too. But all his T’s sounded like F’s. “Fire Fuck, Fire Fuck” was our favorite chant.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Oh my goodness, the USPS needs to be saved. It is a ridiculous idea to NOT save it. I remember getting mail twice a day when I was a kid (if I remember right). And actual letters are treasures. I agree – email is not a worthy substitute. I have saved every letter I’ve ever received (and some that I sent out and were given back to me like you mention). They are precious connections – well, most of them. Some are more like evidence in family drama history. But they do take up space. I am hoping to incorporate some in my writing. Still figuring out how to do that. Fascinating history on some level too.
    My 4 year old grandson is crazy over trucks too – mostly the construction variety, but he does have a genuine USPS postal worker costume that he is very proud to wear. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, the letters are a very special kind of evidence… of family drama and also the temper of a time and of one’s mindset. So important and so much more “composed” than the typical email.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve (through the graces of Resistbot) contacted my representatives (only one of whom actually represents me) about the post office several times. My little town has a WPA post office with a beautiful mural on the wall. The original light fixtures hang from the ceiling (one’s broken) and all the post office boxes are ornate and lovely. The people who work there are wonderful and quickly learned my name when I moved here six years ago. I LOVE my post office.

    Last year, when I was writing my memoir about teaching in China in 1982/83, I uncovered letters I’d sent my mom and that she’d saved. She didn’t open them all, and they weren’t easy to read — typed single space with faded ribbon on the onion skin that passed for paper back then in China. Having them was such a wonderful thing for me as I worked. One of the letters from an old love inspired me to collect my short stories this past spring. I have two little piles of love letters from men with whom it just didn’t work out. I can’t throw them out (yet…). I remember waiting for them and they came on that wonderful one-piece fold up international air mail stationary. I agree with you. Electronic communication loses something.

    In cleaning out my mom’s detritus a couple years ago I found a letter to her from a pastor who’d been important in her life — he’d baptized her, presided at her wedding and at my dad’s funeral. It was a passionate, heartfelt letter begging my mom to pull herself together and let people help her, to trust her family, her daughter in particular. In that letter I got so many answers that I really needed. Another letter, from an unknown woman to my grandmother in the 1920s, commiserated with my grandma’s arthritis pains and revealed to me that this runs in the family.

    These letters are precious for so many reasons. I honestly doubt that stooge in Washington will succeed in this. Rural America depends on the mail. And “we” (not me, but you know) are his constituents.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love it that your post office has a WPA mural!! I just don’t understand how anyone thinks it is a good idea to defund/destroy this venerable institution that has meant so much to so many over centuries. And your comment makes me realize how much so many of us have let go in succumbing to the convenience of email and now even more: texting!!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. A friend of mine and I started the pandemic writing cards to each other, but it kind of petered out. It was sweet. I’d keep going, but it’s her turn! 😉 Next time I go to the PO I’ll take photos and write a companion to your beautiful plea.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My grandfather was a mail carrier – back before they had trucks. He had to walk his whole route. He was in excellent physical condition and lived to 95. My cousin followed in his footsteps and has since retired. Working as a civil servant is an honorable job. I guess I’m old fashioned since I like to write out my bills and put them in the mail. and I also have very fond memories of stamp collecting with my dad… The USPS is not obsolete and is the one federal department that is vital to our democracy!! I’ve already signed 2 different petitions and sent a letter (through the mail – snail style) to my Senator.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Letter writing is a lost art to those even decades behind me. I was fortunate to read letters from my grandparents. The excitement of getting a letter is no longer felt. I still send postcards to my family when I travel. Most everything I do seems to be on-line. Most mail, other than a few bills I still receive, ends up in the recycle bin. With all that said, I love filling out an envelope, placing a letter or a card, and even still write a check to a place or two. Losing the post office would make a lot of people go postal indeed. I still live going into my hometown post office. The postmaster is a family friend and he makes delivering anything to my military sons more special. And I even have the letters they were “forced” to write during their basic trainings. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes, beautiful paper. I bought a planner at Books-A-Million today, along with a BOOK (lol) and had to use my perfect pen to write notes already! We should all become pen pals! Right Martha?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful post! Lots of nostalgia.

    Like you, I’ve kept (in shoe boxes) letters received in years past from family, ex-boyfriends, and friends. Receiving letters seemed to have stopped by 2000, transitioning to email. So sad.

    One memorable exception is the royal mail I received in late 2003 as I was finishing my book. An anecdote in the book involved Prince Philip, the Prince of Edinburgh, husband of the Queen. My father took him on a demonstration flight in a Boeing 757 in 1982, putting him in the pilot’s seat. I had a photo of the two of them in the cockpit from that flight, and some details provided by my then-deceased father. I had a sense the prince would also have distinct memories of the flight. To my utter delight and astonishment, he wrote back, remembering the flight and sharing wonderful details that were included in the book. I can’t describe the overwhelming sense of awe and joy I felt when I went to the post office to sign for this precious bit of royal mail.

    We need the USPS. The upcoming election will be a referendum of so many things, not the least of which is the viability of the USPS.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a wonderful story! I learned about the Prince’s fondness for aviation while watching The Crown. You certainly have a rare and marvelous keepsake.

      Like

  7. I’m going to be a bit contrary here. The USPS was created as, and intended to always be, a quasi-governmental, self-sustaining organization. It’s to be run like a business not to make a profit, but not to lose money and cause itself to require funding by taxes. There is no “gutting” of the postal budget, just poor management. Yes, it needs to be preserved, but not so my box can be filled up with resource-wasting junk mail. The agency desperately needs new leadership and restructuring. If UPS and Fedex can be profitable, than the postal service should not be losing money. Yes, they have mandates they must fulfill that probably lose money, but they should be making money on the services they provide to companies like Amazon. I presented my ideas on reform to an economics class a number of years ago.

    All that aside, I do have collections of old letters that I cherish and do miss the long form of communication. Oh, the anticipation of receiving a reply! All in the past now. We should revive the pen-pal concept. I do preserve some emails by copying them to Word documents, but not everything, plus it’s not handwritten and loses something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are clearly more knowledgeable about the economics than I am. Is it not true that the postal service was required to fund 75 years of retiree benefits in under ten years after the 2006 “reform” was passed? It was my understanding that this was part of the problem, but perhaps I am wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Here are a few reads about that. It is true that Congress needs to pass some laws that would help the USPS be in a better financial position. One of those would be to do away with 6-day delivery. We do not need mail delivered that often. Cut the work force with generous buyouts and go to 3-day delivery (some people would get M-W-F and others T-Th-Sa). The postal fees also need to be restructured – bulk mail rates should be increased and personal mail should be decreased. Anyway, the pension and health fund isn’t really the problem, though it may exacerbate it to some small degree.
        https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2020/04/14/post-office-pensions–some-key-myths-and-facts/#6f7a663247f5
        https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2020/apr/15/afl-cio/widespread-facebook-post-blames-2006-law-us-postal/
        https://ips-dc.org/how-congress-manufactured-a-postal-crisis-and-how-to-fix-it/

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It sort of reminds me of the law that doesn’t allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. Does this help the American public? No, it just helps the pharmaceutical industry. A vivid reminder that Congress does not work for the taxpayers.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I think for many people actually going to the post office box regularly would be a hardship. The service is the most valuable for those either far distant from town or homebound. I most worry about the latter, who often need medicines delivered and so on.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. For me, the USPS is proof that we’re still a community. It’s one of the few nods to egalitarianism I can think of in the US. No matter who you are, the post office delivers your mail. No surprise Trump wants to wreck it. He can’t stand anything that treats people fairly.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I actually missed that article. I hope Biden offers to rehire all career civil servants that Trump has fired. What a terrible thing to happen just because an irrational president doesn’t like you agency or you’re from the wrong party.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have taken to writing letters again using cards I buy on line from a Maine small business Borealis Press. Since so many shops are closed, they lost their place to stock cards. I love their humor and send all sorts of people all sorts of writing. This is not a plug for them, by the way, since I don’t know the folks there. I have many old letters and treasure them all.

    Liked by 1 person

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